By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Inspector General AgencyNovember 21, 2016
WASHINGTON (Nov. 21, 2016) -- Two new mobile applications developed by a Soldier provide quick and easy access to more than 500 Army reference materials and a worldwide database of Army Inspector General offices.
The IG Locator and DAIG Bookshelf apps -- both of which are now available for free downloading via the iTunes App Store -- were the idea of Maj. Brian Bettis, an inspector general with the Department of the Army Inspector General Agency.
The IG Locator app is a digital directory that contains phone numbers and street addresses for Army IG offices both in the U.S. and overseas. The DAIG Bookshelf is a searchable database that offers users quick access to more than 500 publicly available Army materials -- regulations and other documents -- that are often referenced by inspectors general as part of their duties.
The idea for the apps came to Bettis in October 2015, while was he on temporary duty in Chicago, attending the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. The forum brings together "defense and national security leaders who strive to solve national security problems … by exposing [them] to the techniques and experiences of civilian innovators and social entrepreneurs," according to the DEF website.
Prior to the event, Bettis said he was having difficulty finding the correct phone number for an IG contact. Bettis concluded that if he, an inspector general, was having trouble getting in touch with a fellow inspector general, then the average customer would likely encounter the same problem.
"After I got back [from the conference] and I was stewing on this for six months, I reached out to a guy I met at the DEF forum and asked, 'How do I build an app?'" Bettis said. "He says, 'Give me a day and I'll get back to you.'"
Bettis' contact put him in touch with people at the Army Research Laboratory, an Army organization that conducts research and analysis to develop communications, vehicle and weapons technology for the Army, and often works with private-sector partners. Bettis submitted a PowerPoint slide he made that outlined his concept for the apps to ARL. He initially envisioned creating a mobile "tech channel" -- a secure, up-to-date digital phone and email roster for IGs worldwide to make it easier for them to contact each other.
The Locator app could also be "crowdsourced," as Bettis described it, meaning that if registered users found an error, they could submit the correct email address, phone number or street address for their respective IG location, and it would be immediately updated in the database.
"If a soldier is out in South Dakota and is looking for the IG office, and the app has the wrong address and he finds it, he can correct it," Bettis said. "Hopefully this helps Soldiers get to their IG office faster than having to wait on a phone call back from the Pentagon."
The concept of the Bookshelf app came about as Bettis wanted to give IGs and Soldiers quick and searchable access to Army regulations, pamphlets and other official documents. More than 500 documents are available in Bookshelf, and are searchable with a keyword "find" function. Additional features are planned for the app in the near future, Bettis said.
"My hope is that it [the Bookshelf app] will lessen the amount of work that some IGs get based off of complaints that could be easily solved by taking just a couple of minutes to look it up yourself," Bettis said. "Anyone who has the app can do the research right on their phone."
Though Bettis said his initial concept was rough -- "they were caveman drawings," he joked -- ARL realized the potential of the idea and agreed to fund the project. His apps were added to an existing contract ARL had with TransApps, a DOD mobile apps program that began in 2010 and provides Soldiers with a number of secure mobile applications that offer users a broad range of geospatial, tactical and analytic capabilities.
"There is this push for innovation in the military, and we're connected with another couple of entities through ARL in the government, like the National Security Technology Accelerator/MD5 and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, that are driving this innovation push," said Chad Vanderslice, the principle investigator in the project. "Brian is a prime example of one of those [innovators] -- we call them 'intrepreneurs' because they're inside their organizations trying to make progress."
A team of TransApps developers began working on the apps shortly after that. Lou Perna, a software development engineer with the veteran-owned development company GXM Consulting, was asked to lead the project.
"We started having meetings with Brian and his stakeholders to go through and determine, 'What are the critical requirements [of the apps] and what do they want to see them do?'" Perna said.
The first step was to create visual mockups of the apps to get an idea of how the interface would look. Once this was finalized, the development of the apps began. A survey was conducted that revealed close to 90 percent of IGs use iPhones, so the decision was made to develop the apps on a platform called Xamarin, which is compatible with Apple's iOS operating system, but also allows for future cross-platform development for both the Android and Windows OS.
Test versions of the apps were finalized and uploaded to Apple's Test Flight program, which allows a select group of users to test apps, look for bugs and give feedback to the development team.
"It's been very exciting; we get to build something very quickly and get it out right away and get feedback," Perna said. "This was an ideal environment for this project. We had a very involved stakeholder, and it's really been a wonderful experience."
The proliferation of apps that have a functional and tactical use for the military has been rising steadily in the last five years, and they have primarily been developed for use in a wartime environment, Vanderslice said. Apps like those developed by Bettis demonstrate a "pendulum swing" to more peacetime missions.
"Generating ideas from within an internal organization is not a novel thought; it's been going on for years, decades," Vanderslice said. "This innovation trend is a new way to leverage technology and capabilities to get those ideas quickly up to decision makers … and get them out there quicker. I think this is obviously a trend that needs to continue."
To download these apps, search "IG Locator" and "IG Bookshelf" in the iTunes App Store.